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In Old Minster Lovell, a classic Cotswold village, we were pleased to find that the Old Swan and Minster Mill were very much about the Windrush valley and its beautiful river. Despite having the A40 a couple of miles away and the aerodrome at Brize Norton a little beyond that, noise is not a cause for concern and the feeling in the Windrush valley is very much one of an English rural idyll.
We arrived in brilliant sunshine and were greeted warmly. In no time we were enjoying tea by the millstream that rushes by with great gusto.
The six hundred year old inn and adjoining mill were taken over by the de Savary family three years ago and have been restored and re-established with great attention to detail; importantly with an intention to perpetuate and create an ambiance that is quintessentially English country house hotel and inn.
Not only did the hotel need restoration but also the partially neglected 65 acres of grounds. Beyond the wonderful formal garden meadows have been cleared of fallen trees and brambles and the banks of the Windrush reclaimed but not manicured. The head gardener had two months of bonfires when he started this undertaking. The fertile meadows have thousands of bulbs and wildflower seeds and the river banks are a joy to amble up and down with a few wooden bridges cleverly placed and built out of old railway sleepers and telegraph poles.
Since we were there primarily for the fishing over the mayfly hatch it was a great joy to find over a mile of superb fishing opportunities in the most gorgeous of settings and full of wildlife and marsh birds. Nearer the hotel the scene is pastoral casting over quite a wide stretch from the lawn but as one goes up river crossing the great bridge, the river meanders, almost creating an ox-bow lake, through meadows and willow trees; one finds only birdsong for company and the odd rider using the nearby bridleway.
The ghillie, Darren, is enthusiastic, full of knowledge and has great feeling for this river. Although from Devon, he embraces the Windrush with expertise and deep loyalty. At one point he recommended a French casting technique on one particularly idiosyncratic stretch of the river and this was indeed the way forward. Due to the massive April rainfall the river was unseasonably muddied and very high, however we were delighted to see the mayfly hatching even though the trout could not see them land on the river! In addition to brown and rainbow trout the river has Dace, Barbel, Chubb, Roach, Bream, Pike, Rudd and Grayling in abundance in the winter months.
Away from the river the inspired dining is a treat; menus change regularly according to season and what is available locally. The vegetable garden is marvellous and we were lucky enough to have the weather for an outdoor barbecue in the garden one lunchtime before returning to the fishing bank. Dinner in one of the elegant dinning rooms or the bar and snugs with aromatic log fires in the winter due to the diverse choice of wood to burn, is a sumptuous affair.
We also found time to take a short walk to the ruins and remains of Old Minster Lovell Hall, dating from 1435 and built by the seventh Lord Lovell. It is set romantically by the river and church. Had there been more time we would have enjoyed delving into the hotel’s wonderful book of local walks or sampling the benefits of the Windrush Spa.
Old Swan & Minster Mill, School Hill, Minster Lovell, Witney, Oxfordshire OX29 0RN
Telephone: 01993 774441
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